Considered one of the best defenders in the world, Kim Min-jae (Bayern Munich) is as important to the national team as Son Heung-min (Tottenham) and Hwang Hee-chan (Wolverhampton). His value was on full display in the final simulation before the 2023 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup.
Jürgen Klinsmann’s side won 1-0 against Iraq in an exhibition match at New York University Stadium in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), on June 6. Lee Jae-Sung (Mainz) scored a thunderous left-footed mid-range shot to give Klinsmann’s men the victory.
The Klinsmanns were without many of their regular starters for the match. Kim Min-jae, who has played a demanding schedule between Europe and Korea over the years, watched from the bench for the first half. Without him, the defense was shaky from the start. Within the first two minutes of the game, the defense gave up space to Iraq’s Ibrahim Bayesh, leaving him one-on-one with Kim Seung-gyu. The buildup from the back was also not as smooth as in recent matches.
After the introduction of ‘Monster’ Kim Min-jae, the mood changed. Kim was replaced by Jung Seung-hyun (Ulsan HD) at the start of the second half and took the pitch. The introduction of Kim Min-jae, a junior, elevated the position of Klinsmann’s final defense line. This naturally led to more time in possession in the opponent’s zone.
It’s not just the effect of Kim Min-jae. Son Heung-min, Hwang Hee-chan, and Lee Kang-in (Paris Saint-Germain) entered the field at the same time. However, with Kim Min-jae at the back, who has the ability to keep the ball, pass, and move forward, Korea was able to cope with Iraq’s pressure in the second half with relative ease.
Although Klinsmann’s squad is considered to be one of the best in history, the defense is considered to be its Achilles heel. Even in the actual Iraq war, some of them failed to instill faith in the fans with frequent mistakes. This will put a lot of pressure on the shoulders of Kim Min-jae, who is considered the core of the defense.
There’s a saying in soccer that defense is more important than offense in short-term tournaments, where a single goal can often make the difference. This is why there are both high hopes and concerns for Kim Min-jae, who is expected to take center stage at the back.
The Klinsmann, sailing for the first time in 64 years, will arrive in Doha, Qatar, on May 10 for the final match. South Korea, who are in Group E, will play their first game against Bahrain on the 15th. They will then face Jordan and Malaysia five days apart. If the Klinsmanns finish top of their group, they will likely face Iraq, whom they defeated in the round of 16.